By Evan Compton, Divorce and Family Law Attorney
When a couple with children goes through a divorce, parenting time and decision-making authority are two of the biggest concerns. Depending on how the marriage is dissolved, it’s possible that other relationships in the children’s lives will be affected—including those with their grandparents.
If your adult child’s divorce has negatively impacted your time with your grandchildren, it’s important to know what your rights and options are. At Stern Perkoski Mendez, we can work with you towards a resolution that allows you to continue a relationship with your grandkids.
What is grandparent visitation?
In Illinois, grandparent visitation falls under the law that establishes “visitation by certain non-parents” and is treated similarly to visitation by step-parents, siblings or other close family members.
Visitation, like most things in divorce and family law, looks different for every family. In general, it includes in-person time spent between a child and the “non-parent” in question—in this case, the grandparents. The law also extends to electronic communication, whether that be email, text or phone call.
Whether you’re seeking a few hours every weekend with your grandchild or a phone call every month, you may need to go to court to obtain these rights.
What is the grandparent visitation law in Illinois?
In the past, it was much easier for grandparents to win visitation time in Illinois court. However, in 2000, the Illinois Supreme Court issued a ruling in Lulay v. Lulay that made it incredibly challenging for grandparents to win visitation rights. The ruling vacated a previous statute that allowed for grandparents to more easily be given visitation with their grandchildren. In the Lulay case, the Court stated that granting grandparent visitation over the objections of a natural parent would inherently violate that parent’s rights to make decisions for the child.
Because of this, it is difficult to win grandparent visitation time in Illinois. To do so, you must go to court and show that your grandchildren not having time with you will cause them harm. It’s difficult to meet this standard because the court presumes the parents are making the right decision and seeks to protect their autonomy as parents.
As a grandparent, you and your attorneys are thus tasked with showing that it is harmful to your grandchild’s mental, physical or emotional health to not have time with you—which is a tricky case to prove.
Why would a court grant grandparent visitation?
Each situation is unique, and here are a few scenarios I’ve seen that illustrate potential outcomes:
- Grandparent Visitation Awarded: A grandparent stepped in to be the sole caretaker for the children for several years while the parents sorted out their respective individual issues. The children were provided stability with the grandparent they did not previously have. When the time came for the parents to step back in and assume primary caretaking roles, the Court made sure to carve out visitation for the grandparent due to the significant role they played.
- Grandparent Phone Calls Awarded: A paternal grandparent had a positive relationship with their grandchild after the parents’ separation—but several years later, the mother of the child stopped communicating. After difficult negotiating in court, the paternal grandparent was granted phone calls because the court believed it would be harmful for the child to have zero contact with their dad’s side of the family.
- Grandparent Visitation Rights Not Awarded: A grandparent had not seen their grandchild in years, so the court did not grant visitation rights. According to the court, the grandparent’s absence was not causing the child harm, as there was no relationship to begin with.
What do I do if I’m being wrongly kept away from my grandchild?
At Stern Perkoski Mendez, we recognize that grandparents play an important part in their grandchildren’s lives, and that parents deserve decision-making authority and autonomy in their child’s lives.
Grandparent visitation cases can be difficult and emotional; but if you believe you’re being wrongly denied time with your grandchild, my colleagues and I at Stern Perkoski Mendez are ready to advocate for you in court—with the ultimate goal of protecting the best interest of your grandchild.
While these cases don’t always work out perfectly, I have seen cases in the past where grandparents have gone to court—and as a result, successfully gained contact and reestablished a positive relationship with their grandchild.
Contact Our Family Law Firm in Evanston, Chicago, Lake Forest and Oak Brook
If you’d like to explore the possibility of petitioning the court for grandparent visitation, we’re here to support you. Request a free consultation or call us at (847) 868-9584. We will happily meet with you at our office in Evanston, Chicago, Lake Forest and Oak Brook, or at another location.